NASA Transfers Revolutionary ATM Tech to FAA

 - September 28, 2021, 2:58 PM
An American Airlines Boeing 737-800 taxis for departure from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in October 2019. American participated in the NASA-FAA Airspace Technology Demonstration at Dallas and Charlotte over the past four years. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by HawkeyeUK)

NASA has transferred findings from an air traffic management project to the FAA for nationwide implementation in the U.S., the two agencies announced at a media briefing Tuesday. Known as the Airspace Technology Demonstration (ATD-2), the project involved the development of software that calculates gate pushbacks at busy hub airports, allowing each airplane to roll directly onto the runway to take off. The FAA plans to deploy the capability as part of a larger investment in surface management technology at 27 airports in the U.S. starting next year.

Over the past six years, NASA’s ATD-2 project demonstrated the benefits of a suite of airport operations tools known as Integrated Arrival, Departure, and Surface (IADS) technology. The tools, flight tested over the past four years with the help of Southwest Airlines at Dallas Love Field and American Airlines at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, proved the software’s ability to aid taxi and departure efficiency, saving fuel and time and cutting CO2 emissions.

During testing at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the program reduced taxi times, helping to save more than 275,000 gallons of fuel annually, or enough to fly 185 Boeing 737 aircraft between New York and Chicago. The program also reduced greenhouse gas emissions by eight tons of carbon dioxide daily and cut delays by 916 hours over four years, equivalent to an average of 15 minutes of wait time on a taxiway for more than 3,600 departing flights.

The FAA plans to implement IADS capabilities via a new program called Terminal Flight Data Manager (TFDM). It expects to deploy TFDM at 89 airports, beginning next year with Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. More advanced IADS capabilities demonstrated under ATD-2 will go to 27 of the nation’s busiest airports under TFDM.

Speaking Tuesday during the joint NASA-FAA webcast, NASA administrator Bill Nelson noted that the program dovetails with the Biden Administration's efforts to address climate change. The project traces its roots to navigation technology developed for space travel and already has proven its effectiveness in civil aviation.

“We had already done this with the FAA years ago on descent,” he explained. “You think when you're cruising along, say coming from the south into [Reagan Washington National Airport], you start descending over Richmond and it is continuous. It's not a stair-step…It's continuous and it's saving fuel.”

FAA administrator Steve Dickson explained that the software calculates the best time for an aircraft to push back from the gate, allowing it to roll directly to the runway and reduce taxi delays and ramp congestion. And after takeoff, the system allows air traffic controllers to merge the flight directly into the stream of jet traffic, again saving time and fuel.

“Passengers love it, and we're documenting great results,” said Dickson. “Across these 27 airports, we estimate the savings are more than seven million gallons of fuel and the elimination of more than 75,000 tons of CO2 emissions every year.”